Politics & Elections

Providence mayoral candidate Nirva LaFortune releases ambitious education plan

“For too long we have allowed politics to take priority over our children. The reality is we cannot have a thriving city and a safer city, a thriving economy, without quality schools.”

Rhode Island News: Providence mayoral candidate Nirva LaFortune releases ambitious education plan

August 30, 2022, 4:59 pm

By Steve Ahlquist

Standing in a park across the street from the George J. West Elementary School, on Roanoke Street in Providence’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood, Providence City Councilmember Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3), who is waging a campaign to be the next mayor of Providence, unveiled her education plan. West Elementary is one of the largest elementary schools in the Providence Public Schools District (PPSD) serving around 750 students from kindergarten through 5th grade.

Nirva LaFortune Education Platform

“For too long we have allowed politics to take priority over our children,” said Councilmember LaFortune. “The reality is we cannot have a thriving city and a safer city, a thriving economy, without quality schools.”

Early voting is happening right now. The primary election date is Tuesday, September 13, 2022.

Councilmember LaFortune highlighted some of what she considers the most important things to begin transforming Providence Schools. “While I understand that transformation does not happen overnight, I know that there are steps that must be taken to improve outcomes for our students and morale for our teachers and administrators and all those who work in, attend and are part of our Providence Schools,” said Councilmember LaFortune, saying that hr efforts should be seen as a path towards implementing the 2020 Turnaround Plan.

Councilmember LaFortune organized her plan as a series of solutions to various problems, starting with the teacher shortage reported by Steph Machado.

  • “Within my first term, we will create a city-wide Teacher Residency Program, to establish a culture of teacher preparation and raise the bar for teacher effectiveness,” said Councilmember LaFortune. This will be an equity-focused training program that ensures that teachers are highly trained, supported, and effective and will begin at Mount Pleasant High School teacher academy, developed in partnership with Rhode Island College and other local institutions, to position PPSD high school students and Providence residents to become certified to teach in Providence Public Schools upon graduation from college.
  • We will work to secure funding, both through the city council and through philanthropic and federal sources, to provide scholarships for certification expenses for graduating college students who commit to living and teaching in Providence for a number of years.
  • Bring together our city financial team, local banks and major nonprofits to develop an incentive program where there is a forgivable loan or home down payment program for teachers and other city employees to reside in the City of Providence.

One persistent problem with Providence Schools funding is that the State’s funding formula needs revision and does not adequately account for English-language learners.

  • “Within my first year I will work with the state legislative delegation and the governor to provide Providence with the additional funding it has long deserved,” said Councilmember LaFortune.
    • To ensure that the funding formula appropriately weights for English Language Learners and expands programs that support teachers pursuing multi-language learning certification.
    • To expand mental and behavioral health funding for districts, like Providence, where children experience higher levels of neighborhood-level and domestic violence, poverty, and other adverse environmental impacts. Our kids need in-school support: not police officers, but trained mental health professionals.

Many Providence Public School buildings are in disrepair and have unhealthy conditions. Councilmember LaFortune proposes to:

  • Accelerate upgrades to existing buildings and the construction of new school buildings.
    • “As outlined in my First 100 Days Plan, we will work with the district to create a prioritized project list to actually fix our schools – one that continues to evaluate the buildings and facilities of highest need and outlines a plan to ensure that the projects effectively engage organized labor and minority- and women-owned businesses. We will ensure that construction or repairs of buildings include sustainable and green investments.
    • “Within my first year, we will work with organizations and apprenticeship programs, like Building Futures, to provide our graduating students with opportunities to work on the infrastructure upgrades throughout PPSD buildings. 
    • “Expand high-quality pre-kindergarten seats throughout the City, with the eventual goal of universal pre-kindergarten, by the end of my first term.”

Councilmember LaFortune wants to end the “disastrous” state takeover of Providence Schools. “We need to know exactly where we are in achieving the goals laid out in the Turnaround Plan and outline the path forward towards achieving them,” said Councilmember LaFortune, adding that, “Within my first 100 days, we will conduct an assessment, in partnership with the Rhode Island Department of Education, to determine where we are at in achieving the goals of the Turnaround Plan, develop a path to reach the goals by outlining benchmarks for the next calendar year, and identify which responsibilities will be specific to the State of Rhode Island and which responsibilities will be specific to the City of Providence as we transition our schools back to local control.”

Too many students who graduate from PPSD do not have opportunities to work and develop career skills in Providence, said Councilmember LaFortune. She is proposing the creation of a Providence Public Schools Apprenticeship Pipeline program so that every PPSD graduating senior who would like to directly enter the workforce has access to a job placement upon graduation. 

  • Working in partnership with Providence Career and Technical Academy, our labor unions, large corporations, the food and hospitality industry, arts programs, and others, we will work to create a set-aside program so that these organizations set aside positions within their organizations for graduating seniors; and,
  • Work with our hospitals and major institutional non-profits, as a part of the PILOT renegotiations, to establish certification programs for graduating seniors who wish to join the healthcare profession immediately upon graduation.

“Students and community leaders have been calling for the removal of school resource officers (SROs) from our school buildings for years,” said Councilmember LaFortune. “There is no evidence that they improve student outcomes or safety, and there is evidence that SROs are overutilized in Black and brown communities, increasing existing racial disparities.

‘We must work with our state legislative delegation, the School District, and the Rhode Island Department of Education to remove SROs from public schools and replace them with more social and emotional support staff and services to support our youth,” continued Councilmember LaFortune. “We need counselors, not cops, in the hallways of our schools. Let’s listen to those who this policy affects. We need to bring stakeholders to the table to finally get this done. SROs are not behavioral management tools. 

Councilmember LaFortunes also wants to make school more fun, engaging and enriching, something too often overlooked in a world of testing and STEM. “Within my first year, expand access to high-quality after-school, summer enrichment, and winter-break programs for all students,” said Councilmember LaFortune.

  • Partner with local after school programs to secure sustained funding, through the City Council, philanthropic efforts, and from federal grants, to provide high-quality after-school programs in every school, in every neighborhood, year-round. 
    • This includes: 
      • Summer enrichment programs in partnership with our local libraries, recreation centers, arts, technology, science and environmental programs;
      • Partner with programs like Swim Empowerment to enhance swimming education amongst communities of color;
      • Winter holiday programming;
      • Developing partnerships with our local undergraduate institutions to recruit undergraduate students to serve as employees, mentors, etc., perhaps even for school credit, to build community between students in college, the community, and in PPSD; and,
      • Experiential learning opportunities that include a focus on the arts, environment, and other community-engagement activities.

Councilmember LaFortune also wants to see the city utilize Camp Cronin, located in Narragansett. In 2015 Mayor Elorza backed off a plan to sell the camp. Providence used to bus children and seniors to the area to enjoy the ocean, but stopped the practice about a decade ago. “Camp Cronin is an incredible opportunity for Providence to leverage its positionality as a City within ‘The Ocean State,'” noted Councilmember LaFortune. “Many BIPOC students and students from other socially and financially under-resourced communities do not have access to the ocean or aquatic recreational and learning activities, and we have an opportunity to change that.”

  • Councilmember LaFortune proposes to fully repair Camp Cronin during her first term and begin educational programming at the site.
    • Establish a Lifeguard Training Program to train lifeguards at the beginning of each summer who can then be gainfully employed throughout the summer months at our City swimming pools.
    • Save the Bay, URI, and other environmental education/advocacy groups, in partnership with the City, can begin providing experiential learning opportunities for Providence youth, young adults, and seniors during the summer months.